Archive for March, 2010

Never go back II


This follows the first post titled never go back a couple of days ago highlighting that, contrary to the title of the post, it can be good to go back.  This is because I am looking forward to visiting St Malo next week despite having been there thirteen years ago.  That visit was to get away after a long period of hard work with very little rest.  To take time out and recover.  Little was done other than eat, sleep and read and wander around.  Similarly then I didn’t know what I know now about Vauban the engineer who played a role in the old city looking as it does.(I now know about his work from seeing it here in Strasbourg – the barrage/dam bearing his name defending the approach to Strasbourg by the river Ill on the South West of the city – and among many others as this visit discovered last year)  So I hope to learn more about the part he played in constructing the defences of St Malo.  I fancy getting on the ferry and crossing the river Rance to see Dinard (tourist office & wiki) and its three beaches in the centre of the town.  When last there I knew nothing about the tidal power station (wiki) but would like to find out more.  There is the prospect of going on into Normandy for a days visit to Mont-Saint-Michel (wiki), having visited St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall it would be interesting to compare and enjoy the countryside getting there.Then maybe a day could be spent cruising up the Rance to discover the original city walls, half-timbered houses and cobbled streets of Dinan (wiki) or perhaps visits to other places along the coast?  One thing’s for sure I’m going to enjoy some Breton chistre, crepes or just lots of seafood.  Telling colleagues about my visit has resulted in many telling me to expect some rain, but I doubt a little rain will spoil my visit to Brittany, or am I tempting fate?

Strolling in Strasbourg


Beautiful Summer like evening after not much of a day and I get to my last job of the day to find its cancelled.  Even better, I get paid but don’t have to work.  I walk some of the way home and come to the park shown above with blossom on the trees where a fortnight ago there was snow on the ground.The park contains a memorial to the French Forces of the Interior, the resistance, in Strasbourg during the Second World War.  It was good to see some people nearby enjoying the weather, playing instruments etc:The park is in the shadow of the aerial for the radio and TV centre, France 3 Alsace, the third and more regional TV channel, you can see it behind the trees in the top picture.  The aerial joins the Cathedral as a structure visible all over Strasbourg.  Built in 1961 the glass wall at the front of the reception hall of the auditorium veils a scene shaped like a giant screen introducing a mosaic representing the creation of the world, based upon a sketch by Jean Lurcat.The structure at the front is from 1990 by Bernar Venet described by the wonderful guide book ‘Strolling in Strasbourg’, “A monumental structure produced in square section painted steel, this work of art measures an impressive 11m in length and 7m in height.  Mathematically indeterminate, it coils upon itself with powerful twists and curves.  According to Venet, the line should speak for itself and have an identity of its own”, independent of any affective dimension.”  So now you know.

Never go back…..


…is an empty saying often met with a chorus of approval and support.  Why not go back?  I visited Riga a number of times when JTO was working there in 2006 and as a result experienced the place in different situations, at different times and discovered more of it.  I have subsequently been back for a longer period in 2008 discovering more of the city and making several friends, as well as getting a qualification, and, finally, had a few days there in transit last summer and saw friends again but also did things I had not done before and saw things I had not seen before.  So, going back is good and pays.

At the end of May 1997 JTO and I had been working for 18 months without a holiday on her successful campaign.  Since Christmas it had been non-stop and we were both worn out so we took advantage of a kind offer from a friend and borrowed a flat they then had in St Malo for a few days.  It was a chance to get away, relax and do nothing.  I was not well as a result of the tiredness and we spent the time in the old town, walking on the beach, reading, eating and resting.  We didn’t do much in the area or see that much, but that was great.  It was what we wanted.  I am looking forward to going back to St Malo for a week on Saturday.

We will remember them


I have just read of the death of Alex Chilton (wiki) on 17th March.  Lead singer with the 1960’s group The Box Tops he had a wonderful voice,  It’s hard to believe he was only 16 when they had their No1 hit in the US and top 5 in the UK, ‘The Letter’:

What a wonderful cheery song and less than 2 minutes – perfect pop.  On the album its from, also called the Letter, its followed by Trains & Boats and Planes and I used to play it before setting out from South London to visit JTO when she was working in Riga in 2006 and I’d start out the journey in a very upbeat cheery mood.  He was then in Big Star in the 1970’s and had these two big hits, Thirteen:

and unfeasibly long, almost three minutes, ‘September Gurls’:

The second person who will be missed is Charlie Gillett (wiki, Times, Guardian) from his involvement in breaking groups in the 1970’s like Dire Straits, Elvis Costello and Graham Parker through to his championing of World music today.  I bought a couple of compilations he put together of World music and I would listen to the 2007 CD as I walked to work in Lambeth whilst JTO had moved with all our stuff to Strasbourg when I was living in a very small room over a pub but with a smile on my face from the sunshine and music from Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Belize, Mali and many more places.



No Sir Cliff Richard references but Sir Chris Hoy.  Winner last night of his 10th world cycling title.  Only Arnaud Tournant of France who won 14 has won more titles and Sir Chris reckons he can get closer to the Frenchman before the end of the Track Cycling World Championships in Copenhagen on Sunday.  Here it is, enjoy:

UPDATE:(27/03/10) Today its the turn of the women with Victoria Pendleton winning gold in the sprint and Lizzie Armitstead winning silver in the five discipline omnium which has not featured in the World Championships before but will feature in the Olympics in 2012.  Victoria has become the new Hovis girl and here she is talking about it:

UPDATE:(29/03/08) On the final day team pursuit rider, Tom Clancy, won an individual victory in the men’s omnium and Victoria Pendleton won silver in the women’s keirin in controversial circumstances.  The GB team finished second overall behind the Australian team but won a medal in most of the events which will be in the Olympics in 2012.

Hard shoulder


When younger there was a time when I found it difficult to differentiate between shoulder and soldier.  This could make it difficult when I was looking for something to dip into the yolk of my boiled egg. (British English joke there, bits of toast for dunking into egg yolk are called soldiers.)  Last year there was a time when I had a problem with my left arm such that I could not lift it above a certain height and was losing the use of it.  JTO reminded me of the Tommy Cooper joke:

Patient – Doctor, when I raise my arm above my shoulder it hurts.

Doctor – Don’t do it then. (4:15 in below but its worth watching it all)

However it was making washing my self difficult and was getting in the way of work.  So I visited the Doctor and some painkillers and anti-inflammatories later it was sorted.  At the end of last month I started getting pain in my shoulder putting my coat on which was getting worse, little by little.  When in Sarajevo it got so bad I couldn’t put my coat on at all by myself and by the end of the visit I couldn’t put my socks on either.  So on return back I went to the doctors.  Again painkillers and anti-inflamitories  and the problem went.  However, getting a similar problem twice suggests there is something of a more serious problem so I got referred by the doctor to a specialist.  First I had to get an X-ray and an Echograph.  Here you do not have to go to hospital for these.  There is a place, close to the next tram-stop on the ride into the city, where you buzz in to what looks like an ordinary residence, take the lift to the first floor and there is a waiting room.(Building with x-ray on the left, I wonder if there is any special shielding to protect the people above from the x-rays etc, the technician stands behind what looks like a lead shield whilst operating the machine.)  Both procedures were done and I took my results away with me, after I had paid of course.  Then this week, I visited the specialist on the first floor of another residential building just across the road from the x-ray doctors.  He looked at the x-ray, read the letter from the doctor and manipulated my shoulder and asked me to perform various tasks and decided there was a problem with a tendon for which I got a cortisone injection.  It is generally fine now apart from the odd twinge.

Two things come out of this tale regarding the difference between the French and British health systems.  The first is how much more of a role I play in the system.  I chose which Doctor to go to.  He prescribed drugs and an x-ray just as the equivalent probably would have d0ne in the UK, I went to the chemists and got the medicine and paid for it, again as in the UK.  However, for the X-ray I had to find which places perform x-rays, decide which to go to and then find a specialist and go to them.  After the Cortisone injection, rather than pay then for the drugs I got a prescription and had to go to the chemists to collect and pay for it before delivering it to the specialist to replace the one he had used on me.  Similarly when given an appointment to go to a dermatologist before, I was given a prescription for a visit to a dermatologist and it was up to me to find one and go to them.  For blood tests I have to find a laboratory and go to it for the test.  They then send the results to the doctor who prescribed it but also to me.  I have copies of every blood test and every x-ray I have had.   I know more about what is happening to me, about the state of my health and I play more of a role in taking decisions about who I see and they involve me more in decisions about my treatment.  It is so different from the UK system where the Doctor tells you what is wrong and makes an appointment with the appropriate specialist, the x-ray department of the local hospital send you an appointment telling you when it is suitable for them that you turn up, they send the x-ray to the specialist who writes to tell you when it is convenient for you to see him.  I feel I have played more of a part in my health and been treated more like an adult than in the UK where you are treated more like a child.

The second difference is paying.  Paying to see the doctor, for the prescription, to see the specialist, for the x-ray etc, in hard cash before leaving.  People with low incomes or on benefits get a card which means they do not have to pay.  I have an insurance which reimburses me most of the cost but I have to pay first and get the money later.  It’s hell for the cashflow when you get a bill for more than €300 in a month that was not budgeted for.  I much prefer being part of the decision making about my healthcare.  It seems appropriate the day after the final votes to introduce President Obama’s healthcare reforms to be thinking about different healthcare systems.

the Jerusalem of Europe


Was the title of a map of the old town of Sarajevo by the lift in my hotel.  I don’t think it referred to Jerusalem being important to many religions (Slightly off topic but here are photos of many religious sites in Jerusalem.) as I do not believe there was a claim that Sarajevo was religiously significant to any religion.  More I believe the point was being made that the three Abrahamic faiths had played a large part in the history of the city and in shaping it.  The picture above is of my hotel shown sandwiched between two mosques.  It was not just these two which were noticeable for the call to prayer.  The city is largely Muslim with more mosques than you can shake a stick at, as is evidenced above.  The picture above is of the madrassa opposite the Gazi Husrev-Beg mosque in down town Sarajevo.  There was a lot of building on the site and it is clearly expanding.  The map mentioned above talked not only about the religious sites but also their landholdings and the areas held by each religion were greater than just the sites of their places of worship.  In the Ottoman times the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain were welcomed into Sarajevo and they built a number of synagogues.  The one above on the left was built in 1581 and is now a museum.  The bare stone walls and timber
floors provide an aesthetically pleasing space for a
small but well designed and laid out museum dedicated to
the city’s long Jewish history.  A bit further on in the old town is the Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart, the country’s Catholic Cathedral. Well restored after being heavily damaged in the war, it was built in 1889 by Josip Vancas and outside the steps provide a popular meeting and resting place.  Just across the road is the large Orthodox Cathedral, Church of the Most Holy Mother of God.   B-4, Zelenih Beretki bb. Inside are large iconostases holding icons made in Russia, installed here by Russian masons sent by Tsar Alexander II. As a proof of religious tolerance, Sultan Abdul Aziz, and the Prince of Serbia donated 500 gold ducats towards the construction of the building. Serb forces shot up their own church during the war and the Greek government is now involved in helping restore the damage.

Where the 20th century began


There’s a school of thought that there are periods or epochs in history and they might be given a period or epoch as a name but they do not necessarily fit neatly into the start and end dates which are mathematically accurate for that period.  As an example, it could be argued that the sixties did not start on 1st January 1960 and finish on 31st December 1969 but that the period the sixties represents started with the decision in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial on 2nd November 1960 and finished with the departure of Paul McCartney from the Beatles in April 1970 or the shooting of four protesting students at Kent State University in May 1970 or even a year or two later according to your views.  Philip Larkin’s poem “Annus Mirabilis” has a similar attitude towards things not beginning on the exact date, although he has to change the end of the “Chatterley” ban for the purpose of a rhyme:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And The Beatles’ first LP.

If then historical periods do not begin and end to fit the neat chronological periods they represent it could be argued that the twentieth century began, certainly for Europe on 28th June 1914 in Sarajevo with the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne heralding the two World Wars followed by the cold war with the century of World-wide industrial slaughter, or the threat of it, finishing in November 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall or in 1999 with the action in Kosovo by NATO and Russia to end the ethnic-cleansing of the area by the Milosovic led Serbian government. The century which started in the Balkans finishing there has a nice circularity to it.  The two pictures show the spot in Sarajevo where the heir to the throne was shot by Gavrilo Princip when returning from a visit to the Town Hall.

We shall remember them


Sad news yesterday of the death of Michael Foot.  After the 1979 election I wanted him to be the leader of the Labour Party and I was spellbound hearing him speak in Slough during the 1983 election.  An election which the triumvirate of:

  • the foolish traitors who ran away to form the SDP rather than stay and fight their corner,
  • the foolish Bennites – whose folly I freely admit at the time I gave far too much time to – who spent too long fighting their corner and not the Tories, and
  • the incumbency of the Tories with Thatcher in her pomp after winning the, probably self-caused war in the Falklands

trashed the Labour Party and left it out of power for the following fourteen years.  As is being said it is a tribute to Michael that he saw it through the above and started the work continued by Neil Kinnock and then Tony Blair to make it electable again.  Then there is the work he did as Editor of the Evening Standard to challenge the appeasers of Nazism in the 30’s and his success as an Employment Minister giving things like Employment Tribunals to protect unfairly sacked workers and paid materninty leave.  There are many more and a wide variety of triumphs.

Tributes have been collected by Labourlist here.  A fine tribute I have seen is from Alastair Campbell and includes the following I thought worth quoting:

Third, and most importantly, his desire that Labour should win another General Election. He did not agree with everything the Labour government did. But he delighted in so much of the change made under first Tony and now Gordon, two men of whom I never heard him say a bad word, even when disagreeing with some of their actions. And to the end, the very end, he would argue with anyone who cared to engage that in the choice between Tory and Labour about who should run Britain, there wasn’t really a choice at all.

Because it is important people understand what the next election is about, especially all those people on the left far too quick to criticise Labour in Government, especially national Government.  It is also why I so opposed the fools in Reading Labour Party who undermined an elected Labour MP and whose actions resulted in a Tory MP in the East of the town.  I too have let my doubts about Gordon Brown as Leader overcome my wish to see Labour returned as Government at the next election, letting my membership lapse on my move here to France.  I have now rejoined.

At the same time the sad news of the death of Keith Alexander was reported.  I never saw him play, had never met the man but had followed a couple of the teams he had managed and always got the impression of a really nice man and the tributes in the link above seem to confirm that.  53 is too young to die.  He was the first black managers in the English game.  It never seemed to be important or anything he made much of.  He took Lincoln to four successive play-offs from the fourth professional division in England and the fact they didn’t win any of them seems to show that there can be OK black football managers just as there are OK white football managers, the colour of the manager is not important.

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